Wednesday, 21 February 2018
This Creeping Evil (1950/1963) by Geoffrey Bennett
Now, it doesn't matter how I start now, there's no better introduction to this review than that cover.
Geoffrey Bennett was a British seaman and author, chiefly remembered for his naval histories, such as his The Battle of Jutland or Charlie B: a Biography of Admiral Lord Beresford of Metemmeh and Curraghmore, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., Ll.D., D.C.L the latter of which I give in full specifically because of that being it's actual full title. He wrote some fiction on the side, under the pen name of 'Sea Lion', almost all seemingly drawing on his own experiences at sea and thus having something to do with ships (even two of his three Desmond Drake novels about a British Intelligence agent deal with ships in some capacity, be it blowing them up or finding them when they get lost) and This Creeping Evil is the only one of his books I can find with a supernatural/superscientific element.
The story details how a giant big blob comes out of nowhere and starts demolishing various British cities via steamrolling through them, all the while the author, one Thomas Delaney of (at the time of publication still) His Majesty's Navy, seems to have the terrible habbit of running into it quite a lot by accident.
The first time Delaney comes across it is when it shows up at the Port in Portsmouth where Delaney is to land his ship, but a huge gelatinous blob coming out of Dartmoor to flatten everything will probably get in the way of shore leave, as so often is the case. Now, Delaney loses his whole ship while attacking the Thing and is the only survivor, thanks to a rather far reaching coincidence. Then, never caring to really mourn any of the men he captained for two years and just acting like said disaster was a nuissance or an embarassment at best, he carries on talking about the Thing a whole lot. He finds people who are oddly thrilled by having seen it kill thousands of people due to it being so 'exciting', and then he's nearly crushed to death when the Thing crashes a football game between the Angles and the Welsh at Wembley, the final result of said unfinished game surely being the focus of much pub-side speculation and the occasional dust up. Of course Delaney is seemingly the only person to survive, and he is rescued by his wife and a chance acquaitance of his whom she randomly meets in the street.
Now, considering how much of an Odyssey the acquisition of this book was for me (this consisting of a crooked used book seller at a certain website trippling the price on me or getting overbid by 50 cents a second before the end of an Ebay auction at 4 AM) I find it painful to state that it doesn't get any better than that. If anything, well.....
The narrator basically just sits around, talks about the Thing a lot, and describes it's seemingly erratic and never explained movements from one city to another. I was hoping there would be some explanation offered for that, but instead the author invokes the "supernatural therefore I don't have to explain anything" clause, making me want to bite something.
The book suddenly shifts to prattling about how England needs a Leader from amongst the Church, how this Thing is clearly the Devil or something of that sort, bringing up a "Prophecy" from the Bible about how this is totally the "Serpent" let loose after a thousand years because, etc. etc. Then when the Thing finally does something different and starts to slowly squeeze London to death with it's tentacles, we get told that England totally deserved this because unlike the "Heathen of China or the Congo" they've been taught the Christian way and ignored it. Apparently not working on Saturday and having a luke warm approach to active worship is apparently just the worst and most evilestest thing ever, and was deserving of God letting loose his wrath upon Britain. Bear in mind this was published in 1950, a mere five years after the War and yet apparently no one thinks it's strange that human experimentation and mass ethnic genocide and slaughter of millions of people is apparently considered not as bad in comparison, since God never thought it'd be a good idea to let his giant goop monster loose on Nazi Germany.
Then someone says how God let loose the Thing because people lack faith in him and my first reaction was "Of course, and here I was thinking that the best way for God to revive Faith in himself was to manifest himself publically in such a way as to deny any possible denial or skepticism but silly me, the answer was clearly to let loose a giant slimey blob to randomly bulldoze through England, killing old people, women and children alike, with no apparent link or direct connection to God or Christianity, in the hope that people just kind of piece that one together. Brilliant !"
This is in keeping with the same logic that basically pretends that only Christians live in the entirety of Britain and there aren't any Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or any other denominations about in the heartland of the then British Empire.
And so, in keeping with this sudden turn, a new character is introduced twenty pages before the end (the book has a real problem of basically having no one but Delaney stay around long, every character that gets introduced only showing up for a chapter or two before dying or leaving for the rest of the book) who gathers up people inside Saint Paul's Cathedral and gives them a sermon, and tells them how the only way to save themselves from the Thing which not even an Atom Bomb could really put a dent in is to pray. Not, you know, getting airlifted out of there which the authorities tried a whole one time and then since the plane got demolished by a crowed never tried to do again, apparently. Not tunneling beneath the enclosing claw, which they totally have time for because the damn Thing takes literal days if not weeks to close in in any significant fashion.
No no, clearly the real solution is to march out towards the Thing singing hymns and then praying in front of It and hoping God just does a Miracle.
And yeah, the climax of the book is that a bunch of people kneel in front of the Thing, there's a lightning flash and it's just gone.
....Now the question is why Arrow Books decided to dust this one off thirteen years later. The Thing saw publication only a few years before the start of the Giant Monster movie craze in the mid 50's and early 60's, as testified by the appearance in rapid succession of such films as The Giant Claw, The Giant Gila Monster, Gorgo or Reptilicus just to stick to US releases. I believe the people at Arrow saw this book as a quick way to cash in on the trend, and even got some bloke to make this utterly amazing cover for it. Sadly it's probably the best thing about the whole production.